The Town ‘n’ Country Dancers are celebrating the 30th anniversary of two of their own.
Caller John Corrigan and cuer Cheryl Plume have both been with the Maple Ridge club for 30 years.
Corrigan, an accountant by day, who is originally from Victoria and now lives in Delta, started square dancing in 1963 when he was only 7-years-old.
He lived on a military base in the provincial capital when it was decided that something was needed to keep the children occupied there until 4 p.m. when their parents returned home.
“So they started up a school and it was a thing that you had to go, you didn’t have a choice,” explained Corrigan.
“But luckily for me, I wasn’t exactly the most sportsman-like person, but this was something that I could do really well,” he said.
In high school there were three squares of dancers, 24 individuals, that danced together.
“All the good looking girls wanted to dance with us because we actually knew what to do,” laughed Corrigan thinking back. “The jocks were just complete klutzes and they didn’t want to dance with them. So it was quite funny,” he said.
Corrigan even met his wife while square dancing at the University of Victoria where they both attended. They took a break from square dancing when they got married in 1980 and then came back to it again in 1984.
Corrigan started calling in 1972.
“I wanted to be the guy who told people what they were going to do,” he said.
A square dance caller prompts the dancers to do certain moves to create different figures.
There are two different types of call; a singing call which is a pre-determined set of moves that is quick to learn and a patter call which is on the fly and much harder to do. It can take a caller two to three years to learn how to properly patter call. Some never master the skill in their entire careers.
“The patter is basically my brain telling them what to do. But to do that I have to know all the calls that I am gong to call. I have to know all the positions they end in and start in,” Corrigan explained.
Corrigan enjoys the complexity of patter calling along with the music and the movement.
“A lot of the of what square dancing is nowadays, it’s more of a complex thing. It’s very good for your brain because it makes you think about where you have to go and what you have to do for each call you are given,” he said.
A caller does the square dancing.
A cuer, on the other hand, does choreographed ballroom dance, waltzes, two-steps. Or variations like a jive or tango. There are only two dancers in a round-dance couple, but the cuer could have as many as ten couples, five couples, or even 15 or 20.
Plume started dancing with Town ‘n’ Country Dancers in 1986 and has been with the club every since. She became the club cuer for round dancing in 1988.
Plume has participated in many conventions, festivals, and handled registrations for Convention 2000 and Festival 2005, and most recently was treasurer for Festival 2017, all of which are major events drawing dancers from all across North America.
She has even held several positions on the Vancouver and District Caller Teachers Association executive, including her current role as treasurer.
In February 2018, she cued for the Lower Mainland Gala, an annual event drawing more than 120 dancers, with renown American caller, Don Moger.
And she received the Scroll of Honour in 2008, an award for outstanding service to square, round, contra, clogging or line dancing, extending well beyond club level endeavours.
Corrigan is well-known for being a smooth caller, and that to him is what square dancing is all about.
“To me a great caller has a great voice. Someone like Michael Bublé, like that type of a voice. He’s very melodic. His voice and the music all work together to make something,” said Corrigan.
In addition to a great voice, a good caller should have good material and be someone who always considers the dancers.
“I don’t have to tell them how good I am. They should tell me. If they they don’t tell me then I didn’t do the job right,” he said.
Square dance music comes in every genre from country and western, to big band, to techno pop.
“I have a couple of Beatles songs I like to do,” noted Corrigan who can spend two to four hours preparing for a two-and-a-half-hour dance.
Corrigan has called for about six clubs in Canada and about three in the United States.
For him remaining interested is the most challenging aspect about calling.
“You have to change up your program every single night that you call for (the dancers),” he explained.
“So if I call twice a week for that same group of people, I have to constantly be updating and upgrading the material and the songs and whatever I am going to do because they don’t want to come in here and hear the same song every week. They want to hear something different,” he said.
His goal is to challenge the dancers with breaking them down by intermixing challenging calls with easy ones.
“I rarely do something tough in a singing call because that’s their reward for doing the patter dance. You don’t want to kill them,” he said.
His toughest dance to call was at a club in the U.S. where the president of the club informed him just before it was about to start that most of the dancers had just graduated and the rest of his dancers had gone to another dance.
“I got through the dance but I tell ya I swore up and down after that. I said to my wife, I am not booking another dance with that club until I know exactly what I am going to get from them,” said Corrigan, laughing, that the funny part was five years later he became that same club’s caller.
At another dance he had to sing a cappella because he couldn’t get his computer to work and didn’t bring any records.
Corrigan hopes that more people become involved in the dance because it is a great couples activity and, ” you meet friends and you are friends forever.”
Even singles are welcome at the dances. Within the last ten years they have been setting up singles boards to match couples for the night.
The easiest way to become a good square dancer, says Corrigan, is, “you have to learn to listen and listen to learn.”
And he should know because every summer he teaches classes at the RMSS Ridge Meadows Seniors Activity Centre.
Corrigan plans to keep calling as long as his voice remains smooth.
There are only around 25 callers in the Fraser Valley, and at 62-years, Corrigan is one of the younger callers.
Caller Lab, the organization that administers ethics and gives out licences to callers, has around 1,000 members worldwide.
Corrigan says the best thing about square dancing is the friendships you make. He and his wife have friends all over the world.
Even those that can no longer dance are encouraged to drop in on the dances to catch up with friends and they receive a monthly newsletter keeping them in the loop.
“That’s what we call square dancing, it’s friendship set to music,” he said.
Town ‘n’ Country Dancers 30 Years of Calling and Cueing celebrating cuer Cheryl Plume and caller John Corrigan takes place from 12:30 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. on Oct. 21 at the Pitt Meadows Seniors Activity Centre, 19065 119B Avenue.
The afternoon will feature guest callers and cuers, mainstream plus tips.
Refreshments will be available.
Tickets are $10 each or $12 at the door.
To purchase contact Lucille 604-380-0130 or Greg at 604-785-6436.
For more information go to mapleridge.squaredance.bc.ca.